Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. 94 JA 03642, 95 JA 00030 The Honorable James M. Obbish, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cohen
The State filed petitions pursuant to section 2-29(2) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-29(2) (West 1998)) seeking termination of respondent's parental rights to five of her children. Following a hearing on the State's petitions, the trial court terminated respondent's parental rights as to her two youngest children, G.L. and K.A. Respondent appeals, arguing that termination of her parental rights to G.L. and K.A. was against the manifest weight of the evidence where the trial court did not terminate respondent's parental rights to her remaining children.
On November 20, 1995, respondent's son G.L., born August 15, 1993, was adjudicated neglected and respondent's daughter K.A., born December 23, 1994, was adjudicated abused. Both children (along with their siblings A.L., L.B. and J.P.) were made wards of the court on January 11, 1996. On November 23, 1999, the State filed petitions pursuant to section 2-29(2) of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-29(2) (West 1998)) seeking termination of respondent's parental rights and appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to adoption as to respondent's five youngest children: J.P., L.B., A.L, G.L., and K.A.
In its petitions seeking termination of respondent's parental rights as to G.L. and K.A., the State alleged that respondent was unfit in that she: (1) "failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the child[ren]'s welfare" (see 750 ILCS 50/1 (D)(b) (West 1998)); (2) "deserted the child[ren] for more than three months next preceding the commencement of these termination proceedings" (see 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(c) (West 1998)); (3) "failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for removal of the child[ren] * * * and/or failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child[ren]" (see 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1998)) *fn1 ; and (4) "evidenced an intent to forgo [her] parental rights as manifested by her failure for a period of 12 months to (i) visit the child[ren], (ii) to communicate with the child or agency, although able to do so * * *, and/or (iii) to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child[ren]" (see 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(n) (West 1998)). The petitions further alleged that G.L. and K.A. were each residing with foster parents who wished to adopt them and that termination of respondent's parental rights was in the best interests of each child. On September 29, 2000, the trial court held a two-stage hearing to address the State's petition.
During the first stage, the trial court considered whether respondent was unfit within the meaning of section 1(D) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D) (West 1998)). See 705 ILCS 405/2-29(2) (West 1998) (trial court may terminate parental rights after finding parent unfit as defined in section 1 of the Adoption Act). The State called Derryl Bolden as a witness. Bolden testified that in July 1998 he was employed by Reaching the Mark *fn2 and was assigned as the caseworker for respondent's family. Bolden wrote to respondent, introducing himself and informing respondent that she should contact him to arrange for services and visitation. Bolden first spoke with respondent in September or October of 1998. In that conversation, respondent told Bolden that she had phoned him on prior occasions. Bolden testified that he had never received any message that respondent had called. Bolden and respondent then "tentatively set up visits" between respondent and her children. Respondent "was supposed to actually get back in contact with [Bolden] because she didn't have a phone at that time " but "she didn't follow up with the time [she and Bolden] set aside" for visitation.
Bolden described his subsequent contact with respondent as "sporadic." Because respondent did not have a phone, Bolden asked her to call him on specific dates and at specific times. Respondent "usually wouldn't call" Bolden at the scheduled time and "would either try and follow up maybe two or three weeks later or the next time [Bolden] saw her in court." Bolden testified that between July 1998 and June 2000 he arranged for four visits between respondent and her children, but respondent attended "two at the most." Of those four visits, "the majority * * * were set up after December 1999."
The State submitted several client service plans prepared by respondent's caseworkers, which were admitted into evidence. The service plan for the period January through June 1998 was prepared by Reaching the Mark caseworker Carolyn Robinson. In this service plan, Robinson rated respondent "unsatisfactory" as to both services and visitation. The plan indicated that respondent had not contacted Robinson since February 1998 despite messages and letters from the caseworker, and further indicated that respondent had discontinued her therapy sessions in March 1998. The January through June 1998 service plan also indicated that respondent had not visited with her children since either February or April 1998. Bolden prepared service plans covering the period from January 29, 1999, through July 29, 1999, and from July 29, 1999, through January 20, 2000. Each of Bolden's plans notes respondent's failure to contact him and failure to participate in services. Bolden rated respondent "unsatisfactory" as to services and visitation in both plans prepared by Bolden. In contrast, both caseworkers rated G.L.'s and K.A.'s foster mothers "satisfactory" in their care for the children.
Respondent testified on her own behalf. According to respondent, she called Bolden two days after receiving his letter, but he was unavailable. Respondent was not able to reach Bolden until around September 1998 and denied scheduling a visit during the September 1998 phone call. Respondent testified that during the two-year period that Bolden was her caseworker, she called or tried to call Bolden twice a week on average, but "sometimes * * * would skip a couple weeks." Respondent testified that four visits had been scheduled since July 1998. Respondent's eldest son (not a subject of the proceedings below) was present at the first scheduled visit; however, Bolden "never showed up with the [remaining] children." Respondent testified that she was told that Bolden was "out sick" that day. According to respondent, Bolden cancelled a second scheduled visit due to "an emergency court case." Respondent testified that Bolden scheduled a third and fourth visit, but only between respondent and her daughters J.P. and A.L. Respondent did not testify whether these two visits actually took place.
Respondent further testified that she attended an administrative case review on January 12, 2000. During that review, respondent submitted a statement complaining of difficulties with Bolden. Respondent's statement was included in the record as part of the client service plan for July 20, 1999, through January 20, 2000, and states as follows: "I have attempted to contact [Reaching the Mark] worker and schedule meetings in order to obtain custody of the children. I have been disregarded by Darryl Bolden and [Reaching the Mark] as an unfit parent. I have done beyond the reasonable amount of footwork to obtain visitation and return home. Court cases have been the only time (besides on face to face at his office before we went to court) I have been in contact with him is in court [sic]. Mr. Bolden has refused me visitation rights. He also refuses to cooperate with me in order to obtain a return home goal.
He is purposely being unavailable so that he may obtain a no contact assumption between parent * * * and children.
My allegations are that in order for someone to be assessed they have to have something to be assessed about. He has never seen me interact with my children and he has not done sib visits.
I request that this man be removed from my children's case because I don't really feel he has ...